Self Portrait artwork by Don Dean. (used by permssion of the artist)
Popular media references to the 1960s musical British Invasion headed by history-changing acts like the Beatles and Rolling Stones are far more common–at least on the U.S. side of the planet–than references to the corresponding African America’s Rhythm and Blues invasion of the United Kingdom that took place during the same period. That was when classic giants of the genre–think Otis Redding, Wilson Pickett and the powerhouse duo Sam and Dave–took their homegrown artistry to Great Britain and received a kind of acclaim they had not yet received on their home turf.
Just as Europe embraced the early exporters of jazz during the 1920s and 1930s, the United Kingdom later welcomed the influence of rhythm and blues, and that influence remains evident in radio beats streaming out of the country across the airwaves and Internet. Born and raised in Watford, England, some twenty miles from downtown London, musician and fine artist Don Dean was among those natives who grooved along to R&B while later incorporating elements of it and successive musical movement into both his visual work and his acoustic arts.
Dean’s first declaration of his own brand of sonic soul came with the CD Live and Raw in 2006, followed by Family Portrait in 2007, and And So It Begins in 2008. With each release, the composer-musician fine tuned a gourmet blend of cultural styles, which would seem less remarkable if he had undergone years of formal training to accomplish such a professional feat. As it happens, Dean acted out of creative “necessity,” writing his own material and then teaching himself to play whatever instruments were required for a particular song, whether wind, string, keyboard or percussion in nature.
“My aim,” he pointed out, “is to create a soundscape fusing live vocals and solos with samples, electronics with acoustics, sometimes dreamy and sometimes edgy, mixing soul with rock and fusing Latin/Afro rhythms.”
The time-tested formula is one that seems to have reached a kind of apex with Eclectic, Dean’s fourth and most recent release. But music lovers can actually gauge for themselves how close he has gotten to his mark by visiting his profile page on Creative Thinkers International (please see links below). There, his music player showcases some thirteen tunes from various works, including “Free Part 2,” which features the silk-and-smoke soulful vocals of songman Randolph Matthews.
The new CD/MP3 as a whole marks the kind of performance that makes for a potential major breakthrough in one of toughest industries around, and that expands the cultural status of a musical free spirit.
The Eclectic Biography of a Budding Artist
Interestingly enough, for all the blended African and Latino flavors of his music, Dean himself is the product of a union between a German mother and English father. Growing up during an era of general racial and cultural intolerance, he recalls that, “I was bullied and actually spat on ‘cause my mum was German. But then guess what, when I went to Germany to visit my relatives there, I was spat on and bullied for being English.”
Life within his immediate family brought its problems as well. Difficulties between his parents eventually ended in divorce, ushering in a period of poverty and resentment following his father’s departure.
As often tends to be the case with creative souls, a major constant in Dean’s somewhat turbulent life was his double passion for art and music. Visual art was the first major manifestation of his “voice” and the means by which he communicated moods and messages even before starting grade school. His introduction to music came at the age of twelve when he joined the school band. “That’s where I learned to read and write music and played in the band until I left at sixteen, reaching the grand exalted rank of band captain and lead trumpet.”
Ironically, decades would pass before the seeds of artistry planted so early in his life would start to blossom in a major and beautiful way. The pull between creative passion on the one hand and cultural tension on the other likely had a lot to do with why he left home as a teenager and eventually traveled around countries in Europe and Africa, absorbing the different cultural vibes that give meaning and substance to life in the more expansive global village. The diversity of those travels has been reflected in both his life and his art, through audio samples from speeches by Martin Luther King, Jr., to newscasts of the Vietnam War and visual portraits that illustrate not just racial diversity but brightly painted environmental harmony.
Among the more unbelievable aspects of the musician-artist’s life is the fact that he has produced his incredible body of work and made it available to the public all without the expertise of a formal agent or manager. In addition, he has done so while coping with the challenges of caring for a disabled parent and simultaneously coping brilliantly with the constant pain generated by his own physical issues. As full, productive, and challenging as his life is, he recently made time to discuss his Eclectic creative journey:
Continues with Part 2: the Interview
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